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This is who we are, a chronicle of racism in America, a product of Ben and Jerry's and produced by Vox creator Geoffrey Robinson here, founder of the Who We Are Project.
If you've listened to our earlier episodes, then you know that the Who We Are project works to study, address and learn from America's history of anti blackness.
We did it with the podcast and soon we have a documentary film coming out as well.
Today, reparations has become a subject of study on the floor of the House of Congress, where just one month ago, white supremacists insurrectionist attempted to destroy our democratic process as H.R. 40 becomes a possibility.
And we'll get to that.
I wanted to discuss reparations, the history, the future, and to do it with two esteemed experts on the subject.
If you've ever talked to someone who was asked whether reparations are possible or needed even.
I really hope you'll share this conversation with them. And finally, a word of personal news this spring. I'll be leaving the ACLU to work on the who we are project full time. There is a great deal more to come from the project, and I hope you'll stay with us as these things come out. For now, here's my discussion with Dr. Daniels and the TIFA.
It's my pleasure to be here today with Dr. Ron Daniels and Kiguchi Tifa, I'm going to ask you all to introduce yourselves briefly so folks know who I'm talking to. Dr. Daniels, would you go first?
I'm Dr. Ron Daniels. I'm president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, and I serve as convenor of the National African-American Reparations Commission. And I have a long history of engagement spanning more years than I would like to talk about. But that includes being the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. I was deputy campaign manager for Reverend Jesse Jackson's campaign. I am now also a retired distinguished lecturer from your college, City University of New York.
Thank you so much for joining us. And I got another guest to. Would you introduce yourself, please?
Well, I am likewise thrilled to be here to Jeffrey and Dr. Daniels. I am Nkechi TFR. I am an attorney. I'm an advocate, a policy analyst and activist. And I am the author of a new memoir, Black Power Black Lawyer. But I'm the founder and president of the TIFA group, and I'm a proud founding member of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America. And I'm an inaugural commissioner or Knaack, the National African-American Reparations Commission.
I am so thrilled to have you both. And I have teased you both about the acronym Knaack and saying, did you have to do that? But you know what, Nkechi? Let me come to you first. We all saw what happened on January 6th at the Capitol and then we saw some very different images on January 20th at the Capitol. And what I'm wondering is, given that this is a transitional moment, new administration, new year, some new hope, how are you feeling about where America is right now?
I recently penned an article of terror and promise, and I think that kind of characterizes how I'm feeling right now. I'm frankly terrified that we have here the twenty twenty pain that not only I but the entire world felt with the murders of George Clooney, Beyoncé, Taylor Aubry, and the list goes on and on, culminating in that January six siege on the capital by racist white supremacist terrorists. But, you know, for us, the terror has always been there, but now the casket has been open wide so that now with January 20th, I'm feeling promise and optimism promise, because no longer should there be any question in our minds as to the resurfacing of white supremacist terrorism.
But optimism, because with this knowledge, with this clarity, we can move forward with our eyes wide open, continuing our battle for justice and equity and humanity and reparations.
And Dr. Daniels, are you feeling similar or are you feeling different? How are you looking at the world today?
I guess it was a Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, but this was a tale of two dates, really the best, the worlds and the worst of worlds, really. Certainly the white nationalists. And I'm describing as a white nationalist terrorist assault, domestic terrorist assault was one that brought back horrifying memories within sort of the collective memory of black America. Because we've gone through this so much of Washington, D.C., was built by enslaved labor. And here you now have people charging into this building and raising the real symbol, their real symbol, the Confederate battle flag in the middle of the capital of the United States.
Now, when we go to the other day on Inauguration Day, we saw the promise, we saw the possibilities of America, because you had an amazing rainbow of people who were assembled to deliver an entirely different message about, again, the promise. And I agree with Sister and Kishi that the promise is important because we have to have memory, which is another reason why the who we are project is so incredibly important.
I am looking right now at two things, number one, the Dred Scott decision where the United States Supreme Court said black people have no rights that the white man is required to recognize. And when you talk about that concept that the creation of a country, I just want to go back to the secession statement of the state of Texas when they were leaving the union because of slavery, they said this. The United States were established exclusively by the white race for themselves and their posterity, that the African race had no agency in their establishment, that they were rightfully held and regarded as inferior and dependent.
So these words, which sounds so horrifying as we listen to them today, were part of the foundational meaning of the United States of America.
The Naturalization Act of 1790 spelled it out very clearly that this land was for white man. It was repeated and the Chinese Exclusion Act, the California Land Act, you go back and you can see it. I mean, it's shocking when I tell students, just like Malcolm X would say, I presented you with documented evidence and here it is. And you can see it live for yourself. And once you get that ingrained, what we know is that for whatever the flaws of the initial back of the Declaration of Independence, which is horrible in some of this language and the Constitution, at least, it is a document that at least provides the possibility for people to organize and to make change.
Let's talk about reparations, because with that background, Nkechi, what led you to focus on reparations?
Why did you bring yourself to this battle that was influenced by the Black Power movement at a very early age? My life actually as a teenager, I'm 16 years old, standing on the street corners in Washington, D.C., selling Black Panther Party newspapers as a high school student. And this is around nineteen seventy one or something along those lines. And one day I just sat down on the curb and actually opened up the tabloid to their ten point program. What we want, what we believe and I will never forget point number three that stated we want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of the black community.
It said that we believe that this racist government has robbed us and that we are demanding our overdue depth of 40 acres in to move a hundred years ago as restitution for slave labor. Even at that young age, the absence of justice continuously flustered me. So little did I know that standing on the street corner that afternoon, 50 years ago, that I would one day be in the company of leading academicians and economists and students and attorneys and psychiatrist and, yeah, politicians promoting the right in the need for reparations.
Dr. Daniels, I know that you had a slightly different path. And tell us about how you came to be a central figure in those who are pushing for reparations in America.
This really speaks for why reparations is also about a kind of internal healing of even people of African descent.
The fact that we did not or I did not know about reparations as a college student speaks volumes about the destruction of culture and memory and identity and all of those things. So I went on a course of meeting people who were leading the struggle around black power, particularly those in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that led me to a brain surgeon. That brain surgeon was named Queen Mother, oddly more. And I want to say her name again. Yes, Queen Mother, oddly, more shit.
And Queen Mother, oddly, more of you talking about a woman who was so brilliant and capable and instrumental figure. And so she was the one who gave us lessons and told us about it. What does it mean and how do you do it and why don't we have it and how important it was then after that, you know, moving on to I wasn't a founding member of an kopra, but I've been a lifetime member, you know, and Koger was the leading organization, without question, pushing reparations as a coalitional formation for many, many, many years.
So what is the National African-American Reparations Commission? It is a group of people, many of whom have been working on reparations for many, many years, who have a vision of seeing narked and. African-American Reparations Commission as a body that can help frame the conversation and the discourse on reparations. What are the most important ways we've done that is by developing a 10 point reparations program. That ten point reparations program was inspired by the Caribbean Reparations Commission, that in twenty fourteen, the 15 nations of the Caribbean came together and said, we declare even though we are dependent, even though we are still dependent on these former colonial powers, you created this mess.
Y'all need to clean it up. And so they demanded reparations for native genocide and for African enslavement. They put together a 10 point program. And so we began to move to say we need a commission in this country and we have developed a ten point program in addition to that strong advocacy for H.R. 40. And also we work on issues of local reparations and reparations, corporations, universities. So we have kind of a broad mission. But the most important thing about it is it is comprised of really just incredible folk who have been working on this issue for many, many, many years.
Is H.R. 40 the first effort at reparations in America?
Absolutely not. It's always been important to me for people to understand that the demand for reparations in the United States is not novel and not new. It didn't start with H.R. 40. The claim didn't fall from the sky. What kind of Hotsy Coates brilliant treatise in the Atlantic magazine The Case for Reparations?
It is. Start with Randall Robinson's book, The Debt What America Owes to Blacks. Reparations is a longstanding principle of U.S. law and international law.
But domestically speaking, two of the first formal records of petitions for reparations in the U.S. that were pursued and one came from formerly enslaved black women. Can we get a word? And Belinda Voyle and would have been an enslaved woman in Kentucky, but she was freed as an adult. But she was then later kidnapped and sold back into slavery. After the Civil War, she successfully sued her kidnapper and she won financial damages. Bolitho She sued her ex enslaver for proceeds from his estate, which primarily was prosperous as a result that she helped to build herself.
Then we had Calli House and never had a Dickason back then in 1898, which I would say let the first mass based reparations movement called the National Slave Mutual Belief Bounty and Pyncheon Association, which it had six hundred thousand dues paying members. They were seeking compensation for enslavement from federal agencies. And you know, it goes on to the nineteen 1920s.
We had Marcus Garvey in Universal Improvement Association. He was talking about repatriation, but he wasn't talking about jumping into the Atlantic Ocean naked.
He was talking about with redress, OK, with reparations. A lot of people don't think about Dr. Martin Luther King in this aspect, but he proposed a bill of rights for the disadvantaged, which stressed the importance of redress for both historical victimization and exploitation of black folk, as well as our present day depredation. But I must say, it was the founding of the National Coalition of Blacks Reparations in America in nineteen eighty seven that really opened the floodgates and Kolba helped to bring it to the mainstream.
What happened? If I just might say this was around the time when the Japanese American redress bill was being discussed and debated in Congress and it passed in nineteen eighty eight.
And we are we're looking around and saying, well if they could do it for the Japanese Americans, oh my goodness, there is no reason whatsoever why this should not be done for black people. The Japanese American bedrest. Bill Bennett. Twenty thousand dollars to each Japanese American detention camp survivor. I plan to be used to educate the Americans about the sufferings of the Japanese Americans during World War Two, a formal apology from the United States government and a pardon for all of those who resisted detention camp internment.
There is precedent. I can say that the United States cannot pay reparations. And so in Cold worked very closely with Congressman John Conyers in using the exact strategy. It was strategic to use the strategy that was successful with the Japanese Americans establishing a commission to study the issue. OK, I'm sorry. I know I get. So please let me get this straight. Yes. This lawsuit, she's dynamic. On this episode of Who We Are, we're exploring reparations, the history and future of H.R. 40 and the fight to make reparations for the descendants of enslaved black Americans a reality.
My guests are political activist and professor, Dr. Ron Daniels, convener of the National African-American Reparations Commission, or in ARCC Knaack. And I'm also speaking with civil rights attorney and Kiguchi Tifa, who also serves as a commissioner. She is the author of the recently published memoir Black Power Black Lawyer, and both have a long history of working for reparations in this country.
And there is a dark side to that history as well, because what many Americans fail to realize is that we have already paid reparations for slavery in this country. We just paid it to slave owners in the 1862 Compensated Emancipation Act that Abraham Lincoln pushed through Congress months before the Emancipation Proclamation. And under that act, one million dollars in 1862, money was paid to slave owners for loss of property. Whenever a people is faced with the destruction of their spirit, their person, their culture, their identity, then they are due reparations and reparations.
Is the repair for damages inflict the harm inflicted upon people that deals with the destruction of identity, spirituality, of culture, of people's physical personhood, 80 million acres of land given away to white settlers by nineteen hundred.
I mean, you get that and black people were not able to benefit from that. The GI Bill, even though we fought in every war and the FHA and redlining. So people should understand that point, by the way, because some people think it's only for enslavement and it's not to belittle or to in any way minimize that.
But what we're dealing with is the legacy, the legacy of ongoing derivatives from that. And as Dr. Patricia Newton would remind us over and over again, it is the epigenetic damage to our not only our psyches, to our bodies, to our genes. Science is now pointing out that that trauma can be passed on from generation to generation. It's well-established in international law that compensation, restitution, all of these things are due before there is something called reconciliation.
Where does the name H.R. 40 come from? It refers to the 19th century promise to provide the free peoples with 40 acres and a mule or two mules, whatever it was, which never happened. But that concept traveled throughout the years, throughout the centuries. So when Congressman John Conyers sought to introduce a bill to provide reparations for Africans in this country, he chose the number 40 as symbolic.
And each year since then, he has ensured and now his predecessor, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, has ensured that that 40 would be part of Dr. King analyzed the 1862 Homestead Act, which, as I said, gave away 80 million acres of land virtually for free to white settlers. When Dr. King analyzed that, he said.
At the very same time that America refused to give the Negro any land through an act of Congress, and he was talking about the Homestead Act, our government was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest, which served and this quote is so powerful, would serve to undergird its white peasants with an economic flaw. But not only did they give the land, they gave land grant colleges with government money to teach them how to farm.
Not only that, they hired county agents to train them in their expertise in farming. Not only that, they gave them low interest rates so that they could mechanize their farms. And not only that today, meaning in the 1960s, these farmers are being paid millions of dollars in federal subsidies not to farm. And these are the people telling black folks to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. So he recognized the concept of assisting a population with government help and how that was done for whites, but not blacks.
H.R. 40 was originally introduced by John Conyers. What did the original H.R. 40 call for?
Well, the original H.R. 40 call for a commission to study with the study, Bill, Congressman John Conyers to say, we study everything, we study within the air, we study what's under the water. Why can't we just study this issue? This issue has been studiously avoided. And I'm quoting Congressman John Conyers with respect to that.
What I think is important to understand is this movement developing and exploding so that in the presidential primaries, for example, who would have I mean, all of a sudden, as is the case, you would say it was like I mean, reparations, like everybody tripping over themselves. We had to stop, say, please don't tell us what it should look like. We're going to have a commission, whatever to do that just support H.R. 40. And so people have done that.
And joining to our dismay, there's an organization called the American Civil Liberties Union whose national board took a vote and said, we are down with reparations and we think the way to do it through H.R. 40, we heard that there was what the American Civil Liberties Union is on board.
And then we hear like Human Rights Watch, Center for American Progress, and we're saying, wow. And then I got to say, then we got hooked up with the American Civil Liberties Union and then we started having these forums around the country, you know, helping to build our support for it. We got this powerful coalition that meets every week, H.R. 40 strategy group, and I must say, the energetic, visionary, tireless leadership of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in her heart and her spirit sees herself fulfilling the vision of Congressman John Conyers. People underestimate his legacy.
One of the things that I have heard many people who want to detract from the possibility of reparations, a lot of people say, well, how are you going to administer it? Who's going to get it? Is it just going to be checks?
Well, that is really the purpose in the genius of the commission itself. We don't need to jump the horse to put the horse before the court is the commission, that is to evaluate all of this and come forward with recommendations for the Congress commission made up of experts in the area and people who have been long standing on the issue to come together and to brain trust all of this information together to get proposals and ideas and recommendations and suggestions from the field.
In some ways, getting the commission is one thing and then the struggle really begins to impact the commission. You know, some people say there are things that we would classify as ordinary public policy and all that. So that's why we have framed a ten point program. That's why we've talked about creating a reparations finance authority as a structure of people in the African-American community, comprised, again, of experts and people who are reputable and who would be potentially the recipients of various forms of reparations.
That's why we talk about both direct benefits as a possibility, but a lot of focus really on those kinds of things that could accrue to the totality of the black community, because it was the community that was attacked and destroyed with slavery and the vestiges of it was our community.
And that is a very, very important concept. You know, and I've even come to appreciate that even more as we've because I got to tell you, one of the things about this is somewhat of an historian, but we keep learning more.
And it's one of the things that the Who We Are project is dedicated to, because my view is that this history may be hidden, but it's hidden in plain sight. It's hidden in records, it's hidden in survivors. And all it takes is for us to acknowledge it and to listen to it. We have people saying, well, for example, people from our community, the black community, are dying from Koven at much higher rates.
So let's pass a bill that will help everyone with the issues related to Kovik. Why isn't good public policy looking forward? Why doesn't that replace the need for reparations? Public policy is important.
It's critical. I work as a policy analyst and a public policy field every single day. But that is not reparations.
That is what should be happening anyway in the ordinary course of human development, but reparations that repair that specific look back to the historical with this continuing vestiges into the present is what is reparatory justice or is that something extra?
What is that something that is healing? What is that something that acknowledges and apologizes and make sure that it doesn't happen again and that the satisfaction and all those. What is that?
Something extra and that's something extra is reparations indeed.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, I think and she is so good on this. She is so good off. She said it is reparations that strikes at the very essence of structural institutional racism. So it is the overarching umbrella, if you will. Equity is about what do you do moving forward from now on? Yes, reparations is about that which has already occurred and has created this gap in the first place that has to be dealt with. It has to be treated and to return just for a minute on this concept of community, we still need to work, obviously, for the fulfillment of our Native American, our first nation sisters and brothers.
So there are ways in which we can focus on community benefits that will help build out and strengthen the black community in ways that could not be done just by starting now and looking forward to the future. Let me just underline what Sister Casey said. All of this is good and equitable is good, but we have to make sure and that's the other reason why NORK exists to be able to say it's good, but it's not a substitute for reparations.
What happens if H.R. 40 doesn't pass this time? Well, we have a strategy for that if in fact, while we are in the legislative process right now, we're also calling upon the body, Harris administration to look at the issue and to actually pass by executive order this exact specifics that are currently contained within H.R. 40 and Estin eighty three to pass it by executive order so that the commission can get started and be about the necessary test so that we don't have to wait another year or two years or even four years for the work to begin.
So we're on a two tier type strategy, I guess you could say legislative as well as executive.
And if H.R. 40 then is passed after the next election, that work can be put to use by that new congressional commission where not only that, even though Congress is the legislative body, I mean, look what's happening right now.
President Biden is proposing a legislative agenda. And on that legislative agenda out of the blocks is immigration policy, for example. Well, similarly, that synergy exists. So in the past, you know, you have talked about people that came before us and the heroic work that they did to bring us to this point, and I think I just feel like standing on the shoulders of those people living the benefits that we have in our lives that those people helped us get.
We have no excuse if we can't push this forward. Now, if you are interested in true racial justice in America, now is the moment and it's on us this time.
History is going to judge us 50 years from now. They're going to be looking back at the people who were alive right now and capable of doing something right now to say, well, what did they do?
It is a function of us doing the work.
And I guess my final thought in that regard is to think of what King said the night before he passed away. He said, I may not get there with you. So it's really not I think about our ancestors. This is what we talked about in terms of the history of Bloody Sunday. And he may in Arkansas and all of these places, I may not get there with the future generations. I may not see it myself, but my duty and responsibility is to do the work is to continue the forward flow of history.
I'm going to quote Frederick Douglass, who said, if there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom yet depreciate agitation of those who want the crops without plowing up the ground. They want the rain without the thunder, the lightning. They want that only without the mighty more of his waters. And Frederick Douglass said this struggle may be a moral one or it may be a physical one, or it might be both just moral and physical.
But it's got to be a struggle because he said then and it still stands true today, he said power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. And that's what we're doing now. We are demanding justice. We are demanding reparations, repertory justice. I cannot thank both of you enough for having this conversation, and I think it puts it into perspective for me. And so I see both of you and I see where American history and the talk and concern about reparation has grown simply in your lifetimes and by the work that y'all have done.
And I have come to, I think, a level of peace within myself. I know I'm not going to live to see the America that I want to see, but I can give a huge shove in the right direction. And I got a 23 year old nephew slash son, and I don't have another 50 years to wait for America to get it right.
We got to get it right now. This is the Who We Are project, the National African-American Reparations Commission and COBRA. You will be hearing from all of us. Take care and be safe. Ashleigh, Ashleigh. To learn more about the Who We Are project and here what we're up to, go to the Who We Are Project Doug.
Our production team at Fox Creative includes Director of Creative Strategy, Amber Davis, supervising producer, a new Subramanium, executive, creative director, Heather Peski, production coordinator Taylor Henry, and technical producer Isaac Kaplan. And again, my guests have been Nkechi Tabitha and Dr. Ron Daniels. You can find out more about their work in the show.
Thank you for listening.